A patent filed by Microsoft in April 2011 would create a system where cameras on phones, laptops or the Xbox Kinect are used to monitor how many people are watching the screen, Eurogamer has reported.

Kinect content regulator

Microsoft has filed a patent for "Content Distribution Regulation by Viewing User" with the aim being to regulate how many people are watching the screen at once and to ensure that the users' license for video streaming services covers that many viewers.

It means that if the device detects that more people are looking at the screen than are licensed to, the content they are viewing will automatically pause until more licenses have been purchased.

The system could also be used to identify individual viewers and regulate content based on age restrictions.

The patent states:

"Content is distributed to consuming devices, such as televisions, set-top boxes and digital displays, with an associated license option on the number of individual consumers or viewers allowed to consume the content. The limitation may comprise a number of user views, a number of user views over time, a number of simultaneous user views, views tied to user identities, views limited to user age or any variation or combination thereof, all tied to the number of actual content consumers allowed to view the content.

"Consumers are presented with a content selection and a choice of licenses allowing consumption of the content ... The users consuming the content on a display device are monitored so that if the number of user-views licensed is exceeded, remedial action may be taken."

Although the patent is not limited to the Xbox Kinect, a section of the application details a games console and its accompanying camera, suggesting that the technology used to detect gamers' movements would go into the new system:

"Environment 612, with capture device 620, may be used to recognise, analyse, and/or track human (and other types of) targets" explains the patent.

"For example, a user within the display area of the display 616 [the television] may be tracked using the capture device 620 such that the gestures and/or movements of the user may be captured to determine the number of people present, whether users are viewing content and/or may be interpreted as controls that may be used to affect the application being executed by computing environment 612.

"Such information may also be used to determine whether the tracked user is viewing content presented by a content provider."

The patent was published on 1 November. IBTimes UK has contacted Microsoft for a comment but at the time of publication has yet to receive a reply..